The Cue is the Key

Posted by Michelle Anderson on

I’ve mentioned setting a cue for yourself in establishing your routine, but setting a cue can also help you form positive habits and improve both your physical and your mental game.  If you have ever tried giving up a bad habit, you know it’s hard because you think about what you are missing.  You start to believe you don’t have enough willpower, and that makes it even harder.  You need to reframe that thinking by replacing it with the opposite positive habit you want instead, and the most efficient way to do that is with a cue.

Let’s say you want to give up drinking sugary beverages.  Instead of thinking about that sweetness you like, replace that goal with drinking more water because you need to drink something, right? You know sugary beverages aren’t good for you, and you know you need to be properly hydrated, so let’s turn it positive instead and forget about what you are giving up because the result of you drinking more water is going to be that you drink less of the sugary garbage.  It might take a little longer, but the habit will be more likely to stick.

Enter the cue.  You might remember that a cue is something that initiates a behavior.  It’s the start of something.  So armed with that knowledge and knowing we want to make a change in our behavior, drinking more water in our example, we need a cue. We are basically going to condition ourselves like Pavlov did with the dogs.  We want a behavior to trigger another behavior in our minds. If you want to add things into your daily routine, you want to choose a cue that is already there, and add that positive thing you want in your life to that cue.  That’s the big secret and the key to hacking your routine.

We have things in our daily routines already that are cues, but you probably haven’t thought of them in that way before.  For example, when you get in the car, you put on your seatbelt.  It happens every time, right?  Another example is brushing your teeth.  You brush your teeth every day, or maybe you always change clothes when you get done with work.  You don’t even think about these things, and you just do them automatically every day without fail. 

If you want to drink more water, maybe you have a glass every time you brush your teeth to start with. Of course, this might require a little set up on your part in the way of having that water ready or maybe you put the sugary beverages behind a pitcher of water in the fridge so that it’s in front of you every time you open the fridge.  There’s another cue--opening the fridge, so maybe every time you open the fridge, you drink a glass of water. 

Now think back to that pregame routine of yours.  Maybe you decided you want to add some meditation into your routine. The cue might be to do that after you pack your hockey bag or maybe right after you get into the car on the way to the rink.  After a short time of doing this, your brain will associate that cue with that new behavior. In the case of your hockey routine, your brain will know it’s time to think about hockey now and forget about that English paper that’s due.  

Remember I told you to write down your routine.  By doing that, you are setting yourself up to have cues to attach better habits to, to improve your mental game, and as a result, your physical game as well.  Routines are habits, and most of our habits are things we have conditioned ourselves to do. That is the power of our brains, and we can harness that power and use it to our advantage. 

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